Damages and Capital Crimes

Exodus 21:12-22:16

In this extended passage, the Torah deals with a variety of cases involving damages and capital crimes. These include theft, property damage, loss of another’s belongings, injury, accidental death and even murder.


The laws in this section emphasize a person’s responsibilities to his fellow. For example, the owner of a dangerous animal (the text specifies an ox known to be aggressive) is held personally accountable if his animal kills someone — the text calls for his execution. A borrower is obliged to replace a borrowed item if it breaks in his care, and someone who is guarding a friend’s property must do the same.


The penalties for theft are detailed in this section. In specific cases, the thief must repay four or five times the value of a stolen animal, but generally the repayment rate is double. The Israel Bible cites Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, who explains the implementation of penalties such as these can only be imposed by a court authorized by the ordination passed down through the generations from the time of Moses. Although this chain of ordination was lost during the time of the Bar Kochba revolt in the second century CE, Maimonides believed that when the Jews returned to their homeland, Rabbinic authority to revive the chain of ordination could be reinstated.


In addition to the obvious case of murder, several other capital crimes are listed in this section. These include striking or cursing a parent and kidnapping. The general rule laid out in the text is the famous verse, “an eye for an eye” (21:24), but the Sages explain that it is not meant to be understood literally. Rather, they determine that one must repay the value of an eye if one takes out his fellow’s eye, and so forth.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

According to the text, if a homeowner discovers a thief tunneling into his home and kills the invader, he is not liable. If ‘the sun rises’ on the thief, however, the homeowner is liable if he kills him. Why do you think the Torah makes the distinction?


Comments ( 10 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • Damian Sco

    That which is stolen at night has not the same import as that which is seen and held as valuable in the day.

    For the Light that was given in Genesis is the same light spoken of here.

    Mantt 19;17 …but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. [The commandments were given through the Light of God]

    18 Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

    19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

    20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

    If in the light, we require retribution for that which is stolen, then we have lost sight of what is truly valuable in the Light we were given and hence, require the same penalty as experienced by the thief. BUT if we understand the truly valuable, those treasures that were given by God and can not be stolen, then exacting retribution means we have become no better than the thief and must suffer the same punishment as we have forgotten what our true Treasures are.

  • If the thief comes in the darkness, the home-owner cannot see clearly who it is and also where he beats. So in the darkness he can easily kill an intruder accidentely, because he cannot measure securely where to hit. But "when the sun rises", he can hit the thief at the right spots and bind him. Than he will be responsible for a beating to death.

  • Deborah

    This actually is quite similar to our law of land,,,when a crime is commited IE someone breaks in or whatever the case may be..and we wait to call on that crime…we will be asked “why did you wait this long if there was a possible threat”? However, if it has become clear enough by daylight that they did/or are doing nothing to harm than WE would be guilty for harming them….because at that point, it is no longer considered a break in, because they have been in for a time…and we did nothing.

  • Kenneth Osterman

    I do not read the text as you present it. I understand that the thief is smitten by the homeowner.
    “If the thief is killed, he has received a due punishment”.
    But if he lives, then the thief has blood guiltiness because he had endangered a family and must pay according.
    The homeowner is not liable for anything.

    • The homeowner is not liable for anything if he kills the thief in his home. However, if the ‘sun rises on him’ then the homeowner is not allowed to kill the thief. The discussion here was what does the term ‘sun rises on him’ mean? In what situation is the homeowner not allowed to kill the thief?

      • I think "the sun rises on him" means that the light of the sun torches in the thief and exposes him or her as harmless(without an ability to steal anymore or harm), then the homeowner has no right to kill that thief.

  • Really such interesting comments here. Magda, I never heard the idea you presented in your first comment (though I have heard the idea from comment #2), and I think there is so much truth to that message. As both you and Diana point out, the Torah is to bring justice (God’s version of justice) and kindness, not revenge.

  • Magda

    I would say that if the homeowner discovers a thief as invader in his house, he catches him red-handed, the homeowner is also responsible for his own and his family safety and killing the intruder is to a large extent also an act of self-defense (he doesn’t know the intruder’s intentions apart from disregarding his privacy and property). In the case where the ‘sun rises’ on the offense, time has passed – most likely a day or more) after the initial discovery of the intruder. Killing the intruder now would rather be an act of revenge or taking justice into his (home-owner’s) own hands than self-defense and thus is it a different matter altogether. Torah allows for self-defense (preservation of life of home-owner and family in case of potential immediate danger) but not for the execution of justice by the offended party.

    • Magda

      I need to comment on my previous comment: Commentary on Stone edition Tanach translates 22:2: ‘if the sun shone’ and explains that if it is clear that the intruder means no physical harm as it is clear that the shining sun brings healing to the world, then it is forbidden for the householder to kill. I would appreciate some comments on the meaning of the original ‘zarcha’ of the ‘shemesh’ – does it indicate a new day (after intrusion) or just that the incident happened in daylight?

    • Diana Brown

      I agree that we only strive with intruders to protect and defend our family and pets and belongings as we use these in service to the Lord. We are forbidden to seek revenge because the Lord said, “Venegance is Mine.” He will have the final say on the Day the Books are opened and the facts are revealed. It is hard to wait for the Justice of the Lord when we see baseless acts of violence. That is why is is good to cry out for Him to “let justice roll like a river.”
      When I saw the pictures of the Jordanian pilot shamed upon capture and immolated with fire, you better believe I prayed, “Never again!” I prayed for his military comrades, his friends and family as I knew their hearts were wounded by the images.

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